Archive for February, 2012

Red Sox Manager Shows Lack of Class…

Posted on February 29th, 2012 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

…Proves He’s Former Met.

New Sox manager Bobby Valentine yesterday criticized Derek Jeter and praised Jason Varitek’s fighting prowess, saying,

“He is a man’s man… He was able to beat up Alex [Rodriguez]. All that stuff is good.”

I have a lot of respect for Jason Varitek—no chicken and beer for him—but let’s get serious: Varitek managed to win a fight in which his chest was covered with a huge pad and his face was covered with a steel mask. This doesn’t make him a man’s man, but a rank coward for not at least taking off his mask before attacking A-Rod. It’s like taking out a gun and shooting someone, then claiming that you won a fistfight.

More to the point, is Bobby Valentine about to prove himself a bonehead in the Rex Ryan mold?

As the Yankees and the Giants have proved in the last 12 months, winning quietly is far superior to flapping your mouth and losing…

The New Yorker on Niall Ferguson

Posted on February 29th, 2012 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Here’s Nick Paumgarten, reporting from Davos:

What this is is Brownian motion, with human beings,” Niall Ferguson, the financial historian, said one morning, outside the Congress Hall, as his eyes darted about. Vikram Pandit (Citigroup) marched by, and then Brian Moynihan (Bank of America). “Last year, I bumped into Tim Geithner, and he said, ‘We’re going to prove you wrong with our fiscal policy.’ ” At that moment, Ferguson was jostled by a woman who was pushing swiftly through the center, with an entourage of journalists and aides. “Hello, Christine!” he said. It was the I.M.F. chief, Christine Lagarde. She touched his shoulder in greeting. Ferguson turned back to me. “See there? Right on cue.

Hello, Christine!

“The Escape Artists” Reviewed

Posted on February 29th, 2012 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Not by me. In the Times, Michiko Kakutani writes up Noam Scheiber’s new book on the Obama economic team, The Escape Artists.

For Harvardians, here is the relevant material:

Mr. Scheiber suggests that in-fighting among members of the Obama economic team slowed decision making and resulted in often muddled policy. He argues that Lawrence H. Summers, the director of the National Economic Council who acted as a sort of gatekeeper for President Obama, was “next to hopeless” when it came to generating a workable plan.

“Summers’s talent was for influencing a particular decision at a particular moment,” Mr. Scheiber writes. “He was not someone with a flair for the long game — for the week-in, week-out slog of bringing colleagues around to his views. His N.E.C. meetings had a persistent aimless quality. The academic-style discourse would drag on for hours without producing a single concrete conclusion; it would yield only increasingly esoteric questions.”

That idea—that Summers was incapable of building a constituency to support his ideas, whether good or bad—will of course be familiar to anyone who observed Summers during his years as Harvard president.

Meanwhile, the New Republic’s Tim Noah points out an item in Scheiber’s index that will also bring back memories for Harvardians: “Summers, Larry, appearance and personal hygiene of.

The Buddy Fletcher Story

Posted on February 28th, 2012 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

For about six months I’ve been working on an article for Boston magazine on Buddy Fletcher, the Harvard alum and philanthropist known for, among other things, the Alphonse Fletcher Sr. University Professorship at Harvard, and a $50 million pledge to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. Fletcher was the first major African-American donor to Harvard College, and has cut a very high profile figure among the ranks of Harvard alumni in the past two decades.

As you’ll see from the article, Fletcher’s story is a complicated one, and his current financial health is very much in question.

Buddy Fletcher, according to his neighbors in the Dakota, wasn’t the wealthy investor he appeared to be, but the head of a financially opaque hedge fund who was struggling to pay his bills. The news traveled fast to Cambridge, where the question was nervously asked: Was one of Harvard’s highest-profile philanthropists not what he seemed?

I Went to a Rangers Game Last Night…

Posted on February 28th, 2012 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

…which was pretty fun, even for a non-hockey fan such as myself. But there were two unpleasant parts.

1) They showed Donald Trump, who was in attendance, on the Jumbotron, and they also showed him in a scene from the Apprentice in which he fired Cheryl Tiegs. “Cheryl,” Trump said, “you’re fired. Get out of here.” Then the camera cut to Trump, and he mouthed, “You’re fired!” A shocking number of the sold-out crowd cheered. WTF? Whether or not you realize what a terrible person Donald Trump is, why would you cheer the act of firing someone when unemployment is such a painful topic now?

2) Fighting. There was a lot of it. I can understand why hockey players might want to fight, given the intensity and physicality of the game. But why is it so tolerated (and why do the fans love it so)?

At one point one of the Rangers and one of the New Jersey Devils got in a fight, and for about a minute, no exaggeration, the refs just stood there and let them go at it, at one point actually moving a goal so that it wouldn’t get in the way of the fight. It was like a scene from Gladiator—the refs standing there just watching, and the crowd roaring its pleasure, the two players holding each other’s jerseys with one hand and slugging each other with the other. Kind of sick, actually. Hockey’s a beautiful game to watch, and to me, the fighting only distracted from the pleasure of that.

Let’s hope, that with all we’re learning about concussions and brain damage, that this will change

Good News for Sharks

Posted on February 27th, 2012 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Several New York state assembly representatives have introduced a bill banning the possession, importation and distribution of shark fins—and it sounds like it might actually pass.

Scientists estimate that up to 73 million sharks are killed annually to satisfy the appetite for shark fin soup, leading some species to the brink of extinction and depleting oceans of a key ecosystem predator. Since the fin is so much more valuable than the rest of the shark, fishermen often slice it off and push the still-writhing shark back into the sea to die, although many governments ban the practice.

Congratulations to state reps Alan Maisel, Linda B. Rosenthal and Grace Meng for taking this big step toward environmental sanity.

In other aqua news, an international team of scientists is proposing that dolphins are so intelligent, we should legally and ethically consider them “non-human persons.

Dr Thomas White, ethics expert at Loyola Marymount University in California, said…”The science has shown that individuality, consciousness, self awareness is no longer a unique human property. That poses all kinds of challenges.”

As I’ve often argued on this blog, our growing understanding of animal intelligence and identity is going to create one of the great existential crises of the 21st century, as humans come to terms with the genocide of animals inflicted not for the sake of survival—i.e, food or self-defense—but just out of carelessness and stupidity.

Which is to say, the more we come to know about animal intelligence, the more we will be forced to acknowledge the shortcomings of our own..

Is Government Aid Making College More Expensive?

Posted on February 27th, 2012 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Smart Money reports that the more federal aid a college receives, the more it a) decreases the amount of aid it offers, and b) raises its tuition…

OMG, I’m Defending Rick Santorum

Posted on February 23rd, 2012 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

The presidential candidate and general nutcase was booed last night for saying that his vote for George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” act was “against the principles I believe in.”

Noting that he was trying to support the president, Santorum explained, “Sometimes you have to take one for the team.”

The bloodthirsty GOP crowd—these people are scary—rained disapproval upon him, and Mitt Romney and Ron Paul had their oratorical way with Santorum.

But guess what? Santorum’s right: There are times in politics when, as a member of Congress, you should vote for things that you don’t believe in to support your president. It may because the issue is not that important to you, or because the intensity of your belief is not very high, or just because your party’s (not to mention country’s) leader really needs you. Maybe it’s even a recognition that you’re not always right—a sign of humility.

One of the problems with the GOP—and a big reason why it’s tearing itself apart like Japanese fighting fish—is this insistence that one must never compromise, the elevation of dogma to the position of highest principle. The arrogance of these people! They are so sure that they are always right, and exactly right, that they find any compromise (even when it’s to support a Republican president!) a sacrilege.

Generally, I’m of the mind that Rick Santorum is a pretty awful person with political beliefs that are way out of the mainstream. (Exactly the kind of person who should compromise.) I would empathize with him in this situation, but the GOP electorate is a monster that he and his candidate colleagues have helped to create. They feed the beast red meat, and then are surprised when it turns on them.

Why Is Harvard Hoops So Good?

Posted on February 23rd, 2012 in Uncategorized | 12 Comments »

Boston magazine profiles Harvard coach Tommy Amaker, and from what I can tell about the article, the main difference is not the caliber of the coaching, but the quality of the recruiting.

A few relevant selections:

“The feeling,” [Harvard alum and basketball supporter Tom] Stemberg says, “was if Duke could do it, and Stanford could do it, why not Harvard?”

...What is indisputable is that Amaker regularly goes after players [Frank] Sullivan, and every other Harvard coach dating back to the late 1960s, would never have approached. ….”They’re targeting top-100 guys,” Telep, the recruiting analyst, says of the caliber of players Harvard now tries to bring in. “They are the only ones in the Ivy League operating with this model. They’re selling Tommy as a players’ coach and Harvard as Harvard. They’ve had no fear in challenging or competing for [the kind of] player Harvard has never had before.”

Boston writer Peter May explains that the broadening of financial aid has helped by creating “de facto scholarships” when scholarships aren’t allowed for Ivy League sports.

But he doesn’t get into the question of whether Harvard has managed to find a way to lower its academic standards to find such players. We’d all like to believe that Harvard has managed to find a way to combine both athletics and scholarship at the highest level. But has there ever been a basketball program at a top-notch university that got this good without lowering academic standards?

David Warsh on Noam Scheiber on Larry Summers

Posted on February 22nd, 2012 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

Economic Principals reviews Noam Scheiber’s forthcoming book on the Obama economic team, The Escape Artists: How Obama’s Team Fumbled the Recovery, which blogger David Warsh describes as “Larry’s version.”

Not to be too self-referential—but to be self-referential—this is as predicted on this blog three years ago, when I wrote about Scheiber’s initial portrayal of Summers as a heroic figure in the New Republic.

Here’s a prediction I’m willing to put some money on: Within the next few months, Noam Scheiber of the New Republic will sign a book deal to write about President Obama’s economic team—Inside the White House as Barack Obama, Larry Summers, and Tim Geithner Try to Save America, or something like that.

I deeply disagreed with Scheiber’s flattering portrayal of Summers, which I thought was a bid for access for the aforementioned book–a bribe, basically.

Warsh says this on that theme:

The notes indicate that Scheiber interviewed Summers on the record just once in four years, and then only long after he left office. (Associates of Summers saw him many more times than that.) Nor does it mean that the author doesn’t have opinions of his own. A hard worker, he’s well-schooled in the Washington game (including, presumably, the occasional act of ventriloquism.)

But Summers is definitely the hero of Scheiber’s story….

Warsh surely knows that notes indicating one on-the-record interview are meaningless, since they wouldn’t indicate background interviews, of which I suspect there were several. Also, Scheiber interviewed Summers on the record for his original TNR story, which happened as Summers took office, not long after he left. So there were at least two interviews.

For days, I’d worried that Summers would dress me down like a frivolous undergraduate if I ventured something moronic….

Warsh is mildly positive—pretty mildly—about The Escape Artists, but he does experience some confusion regarding its title.

When I came to the end of the book, I looked back in vain for explicit explanation of the title. Who were the escape artists that Scheiber has in mind, and from what did they escape? From economic depression? The perils of the ’90s? Irrelevance? The Republicans?

I found the answer in the endnotes, or so I thought, in the form of Scheiber’s long and thoughtful article about Geithner, in February 2011, titled “The Escape Artist.” And from whom, or what, did the Treasury Secretary escape? The answer seemed to be Summers, who had clearly wanted his job. The artists escaped from each other.

This may be tongue-in-cheek, but I can shed some light on the answer to the question; we interviewed Scheiber for Worth and asked him about the title (not online, unfortunately), and he explained that it referred to the economic policymakers (Summers, Geithner) who had helped get the world out of crises in the mid- to late 1990s. Readers of Globalization and Its Discontents will disagree with that narrative…